During the Covid-19 emergency, restaurants had to go back to the basics, cutting costs and trying to attract more customers.
More than ever before, they have come to rely on online reservations to stay afloat. Luckily, the internet offers many different channels, which can be either direct or indirect.
Direct channels. These include reservations coming through channels you control – like your website, telephone, and emails – but also other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Google My Business, where you can place the link to a booking widget or – in the case of Google – embed the widget directly in the listing. We call this type of online reservations direct because, even when they come from third-party platforms, guests will book directly with you, which means you have control over the process.
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Indirect channels. On the opposite corner, there are bookings from reservation providers. In this case, restaurants don’t control the process and, depending on the provider, they may not always own their guests’ data.
Each channel has advantages and disadvantages.
By working with a third-party channel, you will have access to a much wider network of diners, and that can potentially generate a lot of sales. Like all middlemen, however, these providers will charge a fee per cover for their service, cutting into your profit margins.
With direct channels, there’s no such problem: Facebook, Google, and Instagram don’t charge for sending you reservations, that’s not how they make money.
Direct channels are not completely free, though. One of their drawbacks is that the pool of diners they give you access to may be much smaller, so if you want to take advantage of them, you’ll have to invest time to keep your profiles updated and grow your online visibility. When done correctly, this strategy can really pay off.
Does that mean you should move away from indirect channels and only accept online direct bookings from now on? Of course not. Building a solid online presence requires time, which is not a luxury that many restaurants have. In order to recover, they need reservations today, and in many cases, third-party providers are the only way they can get enough of them to stay afloat.
But here’s a crucial difference.
With indirect channels your return on investment is linear: the more (or less) covers you get from them, the more (or less) you’ll be charged.
By contrast, with direct channels, your returns may be slow at first, but they will grow exponentially over time.
What’s more, with direct reservations you own the full customer journey, before, during, and after the dining experience.
For these reasons, as soon as the Covid-19 emergency subsides, we want to urge you to start thinking long-term and shift the balance towards direct online reservations.